Common Causes of Plant Explosions

A plant explosion is a rare occurrence, but when it does happen,  it can take a massive toll on workers and people living nearby. Injuries caused by these accidents are often extremely severe, and worker fatalities are common. What makes them so dangerous is their suddenness. An accident at an oil platform, a fertilizer plant or processing facility can strike in seconds, resulting in a dangerously fast conflagration that sweeps through the area. The process from the flash point to conflagration to detonation can take just a few minutes, and anyone caught in the blast area may suffer serious or fatal injuries. Also, if the facility is storing toxic chemicals, the blast may blanket surrounding homes in noxious gases or poisonous chemicals that leech into groundwater.

How does a plant explosion usually occur?

Before these types of disasters, there are typically major lapses in safety. Facility staff may not be properly trained in equipment usage. Machinery may not be maintained properly. Exposed wiring or other electrical faults may be present. The facility’s ventilation system may be incompatible with the building’s layout, or inefficient due to wear. Dust collection technologies in the facility may malfunction or may not be managed correctly. Hazardous materials may not be stored properly. There are a huge number of factors that can increase the chances of a disaster, which is why safety inspections are so important. Unfortunately, enforcement of safety regulations is often lax, and facilities may go several years before they are forced to improve their protocols.

This was the case during the West, Texas fertilizer disaster. Investigators found that the facility was in violation of basic material storage procedures at both the state and federal level, but because facility managers informed regulatory agencies that there was no risk of an accident, there was little oversight into the facility.

Usually, a disaster starts with a sudden flash conflagration of flammable chemicals or suspended dust. Both of these can provide an enormous fuel source, so as soon as the fire starts, it will often spread before anyone can react. In confined areas, a sudden rise in temperature will also cause a spike in pressure. This can happen so suddenly that it ruptures fuel storage tanks, or even the facility walls themselves. This will typically result in a massive detonation.

What injuries can be caused by a plant explosion?

The initial conflagration causes some of the worst injuries. With no time to react, workers can be engulfed in flame, resulting in severe burns. If there is a detonation, workers can suffer serious lacerations, contusions, or broken bones. Spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries are often permanent and can cause enduring pain, paralysis, speech or cognitive disorders, and behavioral or mood disorders. Workers and people living in the vicinity may be exposed to toxic chemicals that result in serious respiratory conditions or chemical poisoning. Even years after the disaster, a worker may develop a chronic disease from exposure to these hazardous chemicals.

When a major accident occurs, the following weeks can be confusing and disorienting. With the assistance of a personal injury attorney, though, the victim can get the information they need to fight back against corporate negligence and get the compensation they deserve.